I have a 24 year old daughter who is still living with us. Some parents might groan at this point, but we enjoy having our daughter in our home. There will come a time when she will want to leave. Children leave home for a variety of reasons. One major reason is that they want their independence; they want to make a life for themselves away from their parents. Some kids move from home for the right reasons - others don’t; some fare well in leaving, others do badly and end up returning.
Similarly, people leave local churches – and for all kinds of reasons. This is normal. Some leave a fellowship only to join another somewhere else. However, others leave for wrong reasons and end up ditching their faith and becoming part of the hordes that don’t know (and don’t want to know) the Elohim of heaven and earth. This usually happens when people become dissatisfied and desire to make a life for themselves . . . without the Saviour. Hundreds of people are in this situation.
The classic story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) is a fantastic illustration of this. The story in brief: the younger son unhappy with his lot leaves his father’s secure home to search for what he thinks will be a better life in the world. He is mistaken and ends up in a terrible state.
After some time he comes to his senses and begins to journey back towards home. On arriving, he is welcomed by his father who throws a party for him. The path home for the wayward son was difficult: having to accept his failure, his folly, his sin, his need; having to swallow his pride, eat a big slice of humble pie and seek his father’s forgiveness. However, the path was made easier to tread by the attitude and actions of the father (the leader of the home).
Scores of people who have left the church have not found what they thought was in the world; indeed, some have come to the end of their rope and want to ‘come home’. How can the church make their return journey easier? We have to understand that these prodigals will have enough trouble trying to fend off the tug of so-called friends and the lies of the devil as they consider returning. I have known such church kids who, having decided to ‘go home’, have turned back because they fear things at the church might have changed; they don’t know if the people they once knew are still there; they haven’t heard from individuals for years, etc. They struggle with thoughts of whether they’ll be judged by the people or even be accepted. These are real feelings and questions they grapple with. It’s important for leaders to think about ways in which ‘the way home’ can be smoothed for wayward kids who want to return.
In the story of the Prodigal Son the attitude and actions of the loving father should be noted:
All this was before the son got to the home and it served to smooth the way for him to repent and take up his place in the home. Leaders of fellowships must adopt the heart and attitude of the father in the story.
Here are some ideas that could be used in making it easy for the kids to return:
Never cease loving a person, and never give up hope for him, for even the prodigal son who had fallen most low, could still be saved; the bitterest enemy and also he who was your friend could again be your friend; love that has grown cold can kindle
Every parent is at some time the father of the unreturned prodigal, with nothing to do but keep his house open to hope
The attitude of the individual determines the attitude of the group
. . . his son said, ‘Father, I have done wrong in the sight of Heaven and in your eyes. I don’t deserve to be called your son any more ....’ ‘Hurry!’ called out his father to the servants, ‘fetch the best clothes and put them on him! Put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet, and get that calf we’ve fattened and kill it, and we will have a feast and a celebration! For this is my son—I thought he was dead, and he’s alive again. I thought I had lost him, and he’s found!’
Father Yahweh, thank you for all who came to faith and grew up in this church family. Many are no longer with us for whatever reason but we thank you that they were part of our lives. We know you still love them; help them to know that we still love and care for them. We pray that you will help them find their way back to you and to the fellowship of the saints. As we look for their return we will work to keep in touch with them. Heavenly Father, as they journey back please inspire us with creative ideas to make smooth their path.